Submitted by Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, and Black Student Union members: Dioveon Boykin, Norris Smith, Dayliah Sanders, Jamal Stewart, Josiah Walton, and Adrian Ezunu
In an interview last week (June 5, 2020), Black Student Union (BSU) members shared their experiences and recommendations on what we can do to develop faculty to better support students of color at Harper College.
Below is a summary of their ideas and the solutions we synthesized in our discussions together:
1. Faculty should take the steps to increase their knowledge and awareness related to diversity, and they will see a jump in the performance of students of color when they have a better learning experience. Students of color need caring; they don’t always have that extra push from people and are always feeling pushed to the side, so they benefit from caring faculty. Students of color experience as many microaggressions from teachers as they do students. Some teachers do a lot more talking than listening because they have the degrees and knowledge. Students cannot focus on learning when the diversity issues are not addressed in the course and social inequality is not acknowledged. We need faculty professional development that will help faculty create a welcoming climate where students’ backgrounds and perspectives are a valued in the class and challenging inequalities is a part of the curriculum. We can explore how to increase participation in professional development related to equity and inclusion by identifying important competencies of effective faculty members for which they can select relevant growth opportunities.
2. School curriculum must be more inclusive as it gives students the impression that we went from slavery right to the 1960s whereas there is much more to know about the battle against racism that hasn’t stopped. This causes our classmates to be unaware of racism as an ongoing struggle. Teaching of Black history should also go beyond Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. When we do study Black history, it should be about much more than racial problems; we should also study the positive contributions in business, inventions, etc. of Black, Asian, and Latinx people. We also have to be careful about glorifying people and events from the past. For example, Lincoln wanted to contain slavery and supported sending slaves back to Africa and had slaves. We need to explore the economic and strategic reasons the slaves were emancipated. We need to accurately frame figures from the civil rights movement as well. We need a faculty development course on the history of race in America for educators so that faculty can contextualize their subject with a broader awareness of the experiences and realities of racial and cultural groups beyond the dominant narrative widely taught in schools.
3. Professional development around diversity should be part of a new faculty experience; we can’t expect teachers to address issues and contextualize content in an experience and history they are unaware of; growth must be the responsibility of the individual and the institution. Increasing our offerings will make professional development around diversity and inclusion in teaching and learning more prominent and accessible to all faculty, but we need to find a way to make it a part of the onboarding process to increase faculty awareness and support of the needs of students to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment.
4. Diversity should be a major part of a new student course rather than a small topic in some courses and nonexistent in others. All of the other information about using the library and other resources on campus is something that can be figured out; if the diversity issues are not addressed first, all of that other info goes right past their heads. Additional materials and resources to promote dialogues that create inclusive environments for use in any course, particularly first year courses, could be created in a curriculum project including the Academy and the Black Student Union and made available to all faculty. Faculty teaching first year courses and college success courses could participate in professional development co-led by student authors to learn about and adopt these resources.
5. The way that racism in our past such as the topic of slavery is talked about in schools makes students cringe, and many faculty don’t address the emotional impact of learning about whippings or seeing images of slave torture or degrading images of half-naked slaves on students of color. America is built off slave labor and that of immigrants yet American History classes have a lack of discussions about that exploitation, including acknowledging these contributions. Minority students feel responsible to educate people on diversity issues because faculty can’t or don’t know how to. In addition to professional development for all faculty, African American History and other Black studies classes need either Black faculty or Black guest speakers or even a Black student teaching assistant to make the courses more impactful for all students in the same way that other ethnic studies and diversity courses should be staffed appropriately.
6. Coaches play an influential role in students’ lives yet some students feel that the coaches don’t engage with them beyond the sport as people. Students of color make up a large percentage of students who participate in sports, yet their success in school does not always get the attention it needs once the season is over. Coaches as mentors can make all the difference. Coaches and activity sponsors need professional development around building supportive relationships with students and helping them succeed that includes increased understanding of the challenges of students of color, first generation students, and students who struggle with academics.
7. Student groups like the Black Student Union have a hard time with membership because many students have to work and cannot afford the time to be actively involved yet this type of campus engagement could be very helpful in creating connections and a sense of community. Increased participation in student organizations and events could better support some of the college’s goals for diversity and make the campus more engaging and welcoming for all students, particularly minorities. Stipends for leadership roles and planning and running events or even for regular attendance at meetings may help more students to be able to participate in campus activities that benefit their growth and the institution. Faculty will be more motivated to actively encourage students to get involved on campus if they know that students will be able to make the time commitment work.
8. We previously had a Center for Multicultural Learning as a welcoming place with resources for students of color. Perhaps we could have a welcoming center again where students can gather in a space dedicated to an inclusive and supportive environment. It would not have to be called a Center for Multicultural Learning, but it would be a place where students could go that would be comfortable and where students could build relationships with other students and staff. There may be a concern about segregating students if it was a place for students of color, but it could be open for any students who want a safe space where particular attention is given to inclusive and supportive environment for students who feel excluded in other spaces. If there could be an organization for students of color and allies to work together, the group could meet there as well to further emphasize the mission. Building a space like this won’t happen right away, but our classrooms can be that safe space to have discussions and support one another in the meantime.
9. Faculty and staff come into a room and want us to listen to them because they have the degrees and experience, so it doesn’t always feel like there is room for sharing our experiences and perspectives. If there were more opportunities to share in and out of the classroom, we are willing. Providing that space and time to discuss the issues that are relevant to our experience is engaging and empowering for students of color but also of interest and potentially transformative for all students. We will all benefit from learning from one another.
10. Although statements are a nice gesture, please stop writing them. Do something instead!